corner retail

I have been thinking about the value of corner retail for a while, and gradually collecting photographs of corner retail in Sacramento. A Twitter reference also brought me to an article from last year by the Congress for New Urbanism, Public Square “Corner stores can anchor a neighborhood“. What moved me to post now, though, is the recent death of Calvin Yang, owner of the Sacramento midtown market, DJ Market. See Sacramento celebrates life of beloved midtown store owner Calvin Yang with vigil, memories. It really brought home to me how important these neighborhood, locally owned, small businesses can be to the community. They are a key part of livability.

DJ Market, midtown Sacramento, memorial offerings

Using the term corner retail, I’m not just referring to corner markets, but to any public-facing business on a corner. In the Sacramento central city, these include frame shops, child care, laundromats, barbers, coffee shops, bakeries, restaurants, bars, record stores, and many more. Though grocery stores or markets are probably the most important, it is the variety of small businesses that make it work. And I am going to claim that much of the livability of the central city comes from these having these businesses close to hand. It is part of the 15-minute city that I will post on soon. The main point of 15-minute cities is that everything you need on a day-to-day basis is within a walking or bicycling distance of where you live.

One of the things I will never understand is people driving to get coffee, and even worse, drive-through coffee. I’m not a coffee drinker, but I do go out often for tea. My favorite location is The Mill on I Street, not because it is the closest to where I live, but it is walkable and easily bikeable, and I really like the owners. I have said for years, long before coffee places became more commonplace, that the single greatest determinant of livability is the density of coffee shops. It doesn’t matter whether you go out for coffee, or make it at home, or don’t drink coffee at all, having one or more coffee shops in your neighborhood means you are in a livable, walkable place. Coffee places are not just places to get coffee, but what are called third places, where people can socialize and get to know their neighbors.

It is also relevant to me that these corner lots and small, often quite old, buildings cannot host a chain business, except in some cases what I’d call local chains, of which coffee places are probably the most common. A national or regional chain simply cannot compete in this local environment.

I’m not referring here to modern mixed use buildings that contain ground-floor retail, nor am I referring to commercial/retail blocks or clusters where there are a number of businesses. These are businesses on the corner, adjacent to largely residential. Though I certainly support those as well, they are not what I’m calling corner retail.

My apologies for the central city focus in the post and the gallery of photos. I live downtown, so it has been easy to get to these locations for photos. When I have the chance to get to the other important parts of the city, I will post again. I have probably missed a number businesses that should be in this central city gallery.

What is your favorite corner retail? How often do you go there? How important is it to you that these places exist? What other businesses would you like to see within walking distance of your home?

East Sac Hardware closing

I read with sadness in a Sacramento Business Journal article (https://www.bizjournals.com/sacramento/news/2021/01/29/east-sac-hardware-closing-permanently.html; paywalled, but there is a not-paywalled article at https://insidesacramento.com/farewell-neighbor/) that East Sac Hardware on Folsom Blvd is closing soon.

East Sac Hardware

I don’t question the business and property owners right to do what they want with the business and property, but the closure is nevertheless a big loss to the community. Locally owned businesses are almost always better in my opinion than national chains. Local stores and staff know their customers, and their customers often know them. Yes, I will admit that big box stores often have lower prices, but despite their huge floor area almost never have a better selection. I’d rather get exactly what I need from a local hardware store than something that sort-of-might-do from a big store.

The biggest losses here are the staff expertise, quantities, and location:

  • Expertise: In a local hardware store, the staff almost always knows what you need, or don’t need, and how to install it or use it. Home Depot and Lowe’s, not so. Though I rarely go into these big box national chain stores, when I do, I can’t get good help. Every once in a while I do find someone, but it always turns out they are retired from a real hardware store and just picking up some income and wanting to still serve the public.
  • Quantities: Another issue with the big stores is that you can’t buy just what you need. Need a screw or a bolt? They have them in packs of 25 or 50 or 100. In a real hardware store, you can buy just that one screw or bolt.
  • Location: Another big issue with the loss of hardware stores is that a person has to drive further and further to the big box store. Fortunately there are still two real hardware stores that I can access, Capitol Hardware on I Street in midtown Sacramento, and Emigh’s Hardware in Arden-Arcade. Emigh’s has expanded and diversified, so will probably survive, but I am concerned for Capitol.

And when was the last time you saw a mural on a big box store?

I believe that local businesses both create and support livability in a community. Big box stores do not. Though their employees may be local, their owners are not, and decisions are made by a corporate headquarters that knows little, and probably cares less, about the local community. Home Depot is headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia and Lowe’s is headquartered in Mooresville, North Carolina, though you’d be hard pressed to find that information on either of their websites.